Monday, April 28, 2008

Casillas And Super-Subs See Off Athletic

Real Madrid 3 - 0 Athletic Bilbao

Real Madrid may have been unable to win the title this weekend, but they celebrated taking a step closer with victory over a brave Athletic Bilbao side in the Bernabéu.

It was all set up for Los Merengues to retain the championships and the home fans and players were hoping that they would be enjoying a party after the game, but Villarreal's win at Real Betis denied them.

Instead, they had to make do with a game that was very even for so long, but in the end goals from Javier Saviola, Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuaín and some fine goalkeeping from Iker Casillas saw Madrid to victory.

Saviola was out to prove that he should stay at the club next season, amid talk that he could be on his way out after just one season, and he did just that with a strong performance and a goal to impress Bernd Schuster.

At the other end Casillas was outstanding and showed why he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world with another game littered with fine saves including a penalty stop to deny Athletic from drawing level.

For Athletic there was also big news as Carlos Gurpegui made his first appearance for the club for two years at the end of a saga that began when he failed a random drugs test in 2002.

Madrid opened very brightly, but there were chances at both ends early on, but it was not until the 13th minute that the pressure told. Robinho took aim from the angle of the area only for Armando to fumble the ball and gift Saviola the opening goal.

The home side failed to continue their early domination, however, because instead of continuing to go forward they took their foot off the pedal and sat back to play on the break. It was a strange decision and could have proved costly had Athletic been more effective up front of Casillas been off form.

After holding out, Madrid did then create two chances on one of their forward thrusts with Robinho seeing his drive tipped wide by Armando and Sergio Ramos nodding over from the resulting corner. 

Casillas then made his first incredible stop of the evening when he dived full stretch to tip the ball over from underneath the bar when Joseba Etxeberria looked to have nodded the visitors level.

The keeper then kept out Garmencdia following a well-worked free-kick and the Athletic defender would be denied again in more controversial circumstances. Nine minutes before the break the referee felt that Gabriel Heinze had pushed Llorente in the area and pointed to the spot.

It was a debatable decision, but Heinze took his eyes off the ball and looked at Llorente before turning his shoulder into the Athletic player. Any qualms that Madrid had were forgotten when Casillas dived to his right to tip Armendia's shot back in the opposite direction and over the bar.

After retreating for so long, Madrid finally came back into the game strongly in the last five or ten minutes of the half and looked to continue that form after the break. Instead the game evened out again and both teams had good chances to score with Carlos Gurpegui going close for Athletic and Guti sliding a shot wide of the post.

The game was over as a contest after Raúl went off and Robbem, his replacement, netted within a minute of coming on when he met a low cross from the right to beat Armando from close range with 74 minutes on the clock. Within three minutes Madrid had rounded off their win after Higuaín, another substitute, latched onto a loose back pass and curled the ball inside the near post.

Madrid's fans still cheered the fact that the championship is tantalisingly close, but the actual party was put on hold and the may not have the post-match celebrations they dream of with the next match being at Osasuna.

Ian Dixon,

No comments: